Project Controls from BIM – is this the Holy Grail?
Project Controls from BIM – is this the Holy Grail?
Project Controls is a mix of science and art - a standalone discipline to control what are often large and complex projects with the aim of completing them on time, in budget and to a high quality.
The science is made up of the techniques applied to a project to measure the status and better predict the outcome. The art is that the information is rarely in the right format to make all the necessary analyses, not helped by the fact that the measurements continuously change across the lifecycle of the project.
The information to judge the status of the project and make recommendations for actions is affected by:
- Ambiguity in the source information - there are often several sources of truth in a large fast-moving project and reconciling these can be time consuming and frustrating.
- Information is fragmented, held in documents, schedules and drawings e.g. a count of the number of doors to work out how much they will cost or how many are currently fixed, requires a detailed review and analysis of many drawings and associated information. The reality is that the analysis often doesn’t get undertaken or may get undertaken many times by many parties. Either is inefficient.
- An inability to see information in context - a window is quite a different proposition to build when it is on the ground floor compared to being located on the 5th floor, or on the east wing above an embankment overlooking the sea.
- When the information is shown on drawings, even an experienced person can interpret the information differently, especially when they have limited time to view and reconcile.
So, the challenges in project controls are immense, and that’s before you’re met with the optimistic predictions of the construction team. With margins often low and each party to the contract having their own interpretation of the information to hand, it is hardly surprising that, in spite of the considerable time and effort put into the task, mistakes can, and often are made with the result that projects overrun in time and cost.
What about BIM?
BIM thrives on definition. When you model an object, you have to position it and size it and say what it is. So, while designers prefer not to add items to a drawing until they are fully defined, cost planners and construction teams want to better understand what is required, even if it needs further definition at a later date. BIM provides some key principles to help solve our controls conundrum:
- There is accuracy and definition in the content.
- There is the opportunity for a managed process based around a single model, invariably wrapped in an integrated CDE.
- There is a managed process to define, add and enhance the object data to create an appropriate level of detail at every stage in the project, leading to the digital handover and operation.
When we manage 3D object information, we are able to enhance it with things like time, work packaging, cost and asset coding etc. to allow us to analyse it, as well as simulate and visualise the outcomes in every which way we choose.
BIM as an enabler for better project controls
The definition in BIM provides a strong foundation that accelerates it beyond its traditional space into that of Integrated Project Controls, for example:
- Visual simulation and understanding of programme changes - Being able to see the impacts of design changes on the programme is traditionally quite difficult, especially using a Gantt chart. With BIM the process becomes much quicker, with automated mapping between construction elements and tasks, much easier and more visual, with the ability to run scenarios across multiple programme versions.
- Short-term programming and logistics planning - Projects are typically founded on structured strategic programmes with separate discrete local short-term programmes. Short-term sequencing the permanent works and the temporary works, and even simulating material movements, are all opportunities for BIM driven projects and will undoubtedly expose issues, reduce risks and improve the communication amongst the project team.
- Cost estimating and cost management - While a model doesn’t often reflect the complete picture early in a project, it does provide the scope onto which other elements of content can be attached. E.g. a wall in the model might attract plaster, paint, skirting, builderswork restraint, acoustic treatment etc. but these elements do not need to be detailed in the model. However, the size and number of each can be associated to the wall and made available to other users. Then they can be associated with cost and resource estimation, paving the way for association with the progress updates.
- Risk Management - The key time-consuming task is the population of the programme with cost, association with the risk register and the subsequent set up, ready for the analysis to take place. BIM will be able to facilitate and even automate much of this process, allowing experienced users to concentrate on the outcome and the subsequent actions, rather than the time-consuming preparation of the information.
- Combine the measurement and costing with progress measurement in the model, given that each activity knows the components associated with it, and fast, accurate progress measurement can now contribute to the reconciliation of cost and value.
More accuracy and efficiency
So, given the objectives of BIM, why wouldn’t project controls as a function not jump at the opportunity offered by it? Is it that BIM is often still seen as just pictures or videos? Is it that very few software providers have aligned their thoughts and aspirations to the opportunity and the enablement of Project Controls through BIM?
What will come first, robust information to enable project controls or the demand for more robust information and consistent processes to feed the opportunity for improved project controls?
One reality is that strong leadership is invariably critical to lead the change. The ultimate aim is to produce the outputs in real time as the exhaust gasses of the process, thereby allowing the project controls team to apply their art while making an experienced judgement based on up-to-date information and analysis of the data from previous projects. There can hardly be a Client or owner that won’t be keen to achieve this outcome.